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The Complete Works of Robert Burns

The following is from The Complete Works of Robert Burns by Allan Cunningham:

Epitaphs, Epigrams, Fragments, &c

Index to Epitaphs, Epigrams, Fragments, &c

On the Author's Father

[William Burness merited his son's eulogiums: he was an example of piety, patience, and fortitude.]

O ye whose cheek the tear of pity stains,
  Draw near with pious rev'rence and attend!
Here lie the loving husband's dear remains,
  The tender father and the gen'rous friend.
The pitying heart that felt for human woe;
  The dauntless heart that feared no human pride;
The friend of man, to vice alone a foe;
  "For ev'n his failings lean'd to virtue's side."

On R.A., Esq

[Robert Aiken, Esq., to whom "The Cotter's Saturday Night" is addressed: a kind and generous man.]

Know thou, O stranger to the fame
Of this much lov'd, much honour'd name!
(For none that knew him need be told)
A warmer heart death ne'er made cold.

On a Friend

[The name of this friend is neither mentioned nor alluded to in any of the poet's productions.]

An honest man here lies at rest
As e'er God with his image blest!
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth;
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd,
Few heads with knowledge so inform'd:
If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

For Gavin Hamilton

[These lines allude to the persecution which Hamilton endured for presuming to ride on Sunday, and say, "damn it," in the presence of the minister of Mauchline.]

The poor man weeps--here Gavin sleeps,
  Whom canting wretches blam'd:
But with such as he, where'er he be,
  May I be sav'd or damn'd!

On Wee Johnny

Hic Jacet Wee Johnny

[Wee Johnny was John Wilson, printer of the Kilmarnock edition of Burns's Poems: he doubted the success of the speculation, and the poet punished him in these lines, which he printed unaware of their meaning.]

Whoe'er thou art, O reader, know,
  That death has murder'd Johnny!
An' here his body lies fu' low--
  For saul he ne'er had ony.

On John Dove, Innkeeper, Mauchline

[John Dove kept the Whitefoord Arms in Mauchline: his religion is made to consist of a comparative appreciation of the liquors he kept.]

Here lies Johnny Pidgeon;
What was his religion?
  Wha e'er desires to ken,
To some other warl'
Maun follow the carl,
  For here Johnny Pidgeon had nane!

Strong ale was ablution--
Small beer, persecution,
  A dram was memento mori;
But a full flowing bowl
Was the saving his soul,
  And port was celestial glory.

On a Wag in Mauchline

[This laborious and useful wag was the "Dear Smith, thou sleest pawkie thief," of one of the poet's finest epistles: he died in the West Indies.]

Lament him, Mauchline husbands a',
  He aften did assist ye;
For had ye staid whole weeks awa,
  Your wives they ne'er had missed ye.
Ye Mauchline bairns, as on ye press
  To school in bands thegither,
O tread ye lightly on his grass,--
  Perhaps he was your father.

On a Celebrated Ruling Elder

[Souter Hood obtained the distinction of this Epigram by his impertinent inquiries into what he called the moral delinquencies of Burns.]

Here souter Hood in death does sleep;--
  To h--ll, if he's gane thither,
Satan, gie him thy gear to keep,
  He'll haud it weel thegither.

On a Noisy Polemic

[This noisy polemic was a mason of the name of James Humphrey: he astonished Cromek by an eloquent dissertation on free grace, effectual-calling, and predestination.]

Below thir stanes lie Jamie's banes:
  O Death, it's my opinion,
Thou ne'er took such a blethrin' b--ch
  Into thy dark dominion!

On Miss Jean Scott

[The heroine of these complimentary lines lived in Ayr, and cheered the poet with her sweet voice, as well as her sweet looks.]

Oh! had each Scot of ancient times,
  Been Jeany Scott, as thou art,
The bravest heart on English ground
  Had yielded like a coward!

On a Henpecked Country Squire

[Though satisfied with the severe satire of these lines, the poet made a second attempt.]

As father Adam first was fool'd,
  A case that's still too common,
Here lies a man a woman rul'd,
  The devil rul'd the woman.

On the Same

[The second attempt did not in Burns's fancy exhaust this fruitful subject: he tried his hand again.]

O Death, hadst thou but spared his life,
  Whom we this day lament,
We freely wad exchang'd the wife,
  And a' been weel content!

Ev'n as he is, cauld in his graff,
  The swap we yet will do't;
Take thou the carlin's carcase aff,
  Thou'se get the soul to boot.

On The Same

[In these lines he bade farewell to the sordid dame, who lived, it is said, in Netherplace, near Mauchline.]

One Queen Artemisia, as old stories tell,
When depriv'd of her husband she loved so well,
In respect for the love and affection he'd show'd her,
She reduc'd him to dust and she drank up the powder.
But Queen Netherplace, of a diff'rent complexion,
When call'd on to order the fun'ral direction,
Would have eat her dear lord, on a slender pretence,
Not to show her respect, but to save the expense.

The Highland Welcome

[Burns took farewell of the hospitalities of the Scottish Highlands in these happy lines.]

When Death's dark stream I ferry o'er,
  A time that surely shall come;
In Heaven itself I'll ask no more
  Than just a Highland welcome.

On William Smellie

[Smellie, author of the Philosophy of History; a singular person, of ready wit, and negligent in nothing save his dress.]

Shrewd Willie Smellie to Crochallan came,
The old cock'd hat, the gray surtout, the same;
His bristling beard just rising in its might,
'Twas four long nights and days to shaving night:

His uncomb'd grizzly locks wild staring, thatch'd
A head for thought profound and clear, unmatch'd:
Yet tho' his caustic wit was biting, rude,
His heart was warm, benevolent, and good.

Verses Written On a Window of the Inn at Carron

[These lines were written on receiving what the poet considered an uncivil refusal to look at the works of the celebrated Carron foundry.]

We came na here to view your warks
  In hopes to be mair wise,
But only, lest we gang to hell,
  It may be nae surprise:

For whan we tirl'd at your door,
  Your porter dought na hear us;
Sae may, shou'd we to hell's yetts come
  Your billy Satan sair us!

The Book-Worms

[Burns wrote this reproof in a Shakspeare, which he found splendidly bound and gilt, but unread and worm-eaten, in a noble person's library.]

Through and through the inspir'd leaves,
  Ye maggots, make your windings;
But oh! respect his lordship's taste,
  And spare his golden bindings.

Lines on Stirling

[On visiting Stirling, Burns was stung at beholding nothing but desolation in the palaces of our princes and our halls of legislation, and vented his indignation in those unloyal lines: some one has said that they were written by his companion, Nicol, but this wants confirmation.]

Here Stuarts once in glory reign'd,
And laws for Scotland's weal ordain'd;
But now unroof'd their palace stands,
Their sceptre's sway'd by other hands;
The injured Stuart line is gone,
A race outlandish fills their throne;
An idiot race, to honour lost;
Who know them best despise them most.

The Reproof

[The imprudence of making the lines written at Stirling public was hinted to Burns by a friend; he said, "Oh, but I mean to reprove myself for it," which he did in these words.]

Rash mortal, and slanderous Poet, thy name
Shall no longer appear in the records of fame;
Dost not know that old Mansfield, who writes like the Bible,
Says the more 'tis a truth, Sir, the more 'tis a libel?

The Reply

[The minister of Gladsmuir wrote a censure on the Stirling lines, intimating, as a priest, that Burns's race was nigh run, and as a prophet, that oblivion awaited his muse. The poet replied to the expostulation.]

Like Esop's lion, Burns says, sore I feel
All others' scorn--but damn that ass's heel.

Lines Written Under the Picture of the Celebrated Miss Burns

[The Miss Burns of these lines was well known in those days to the bucks of the Scottish metropolis: there is still a letter by the poet, claiming from the magistrates of Edinburgh a liberal interpretation of the laws of social morality, in belief of his fair namesake.]

Cease, ye prudes, your envious railings,
  Lovely Burns has charms--confess:
True it is, she had one failing--
  Had a woman ever less?

Extempore in the Court of Session

[These portraits are strongly coloured with the partialities of the poet: Dundas had offended his pride, Erskine had pleased his vanity; and as he felt he spoke.]

Lord Advocate:

He clench'd his pamphlets in his fist,
  He quoted and he hinted,
'Till in a declamation-mist
  His argument he tint it:
He gaped for't, he grap'd for't,
  He fand it was awa, man;
But what his common sense came short
  He eked out wi' law, man.

Mr. Erskine:

Collected Harry stood awee,
  Then open'd out his arm, man:
His lordship sat wi' rueful e'e,
  And ey'd the gathering storm, man;
Like wind-driv'n hail it did assail,
  Or torrents owre a linn, man;
The Bench sae wise lift up their eyes,
  Half-wauken'd wi' the din, man.

The Henpecked Husband

[A lady who expressed herself with incivility about her husband's potations with Burns, was rewarded by these sharp lines.]

Curs'd be the man, the poorest wretch in life,
The crouching vassal to the tyrant wife!
Who has no will but by her high permission;
Who has not sixpence but in her possession;
Who must to her his dear friend's secret tell;
Who dreads a curtain lecture worse than hell!
Were such the wife had fallen to my part,
I'd break her spirit, or I'd break her heart;
I'd charm her with the magic of a switch,
I'd kiss her maids, and kick the perverse b----h.

Written At Inverary

[Neglected at the inn of Inverary, on account of the presence of some northern chiefs, and overlooked by his Grace of Argyll, the poet let loose his wrath and his rhyme: tradition speaks of a pursuit which took place on the part of the Campbell, when he was told of his mistake, and of a resolution not to be soothed on the part of the bard.]

Whoe'er he be that sojourns here,
  I pity much his case,
Unless he's come to wait upon
  The Lord their God, his Grace.

There's naething here but Highland pride
  And Highland cauld and hunger;
If Providence has sent me here,
  T'was surely in his anger.

On Elphinston's Translations of Martial's Epigrams

[Burns thus relates the origin of this sally:--"Stopping at a merchant's shop in Edinburgh, a friend of mine one day put Elphinston's Translation of Martial into my hand, and desired my opinion of it. I asked permission to write my opinion on a blank leaf of the book; which being granted, I wrote this epigram."]

O thou, whom poesy abhors,
Whom prose has turned out of doors,
Heard'st thou that groan? proceed no further;
'Twas laurell'd Martial roaring murther!

Inscription on the Headstone of Fergusson

[Some social friends, whose good feelings were better than their taste, have ornamented with supplemental iron work the headstone which Burns erected, with this inscription to the memory of his brother bard, Fergusson.]

Here lies
ROBERT FERGUSSON, Poet.
Born, September 5, 1751;
Died, Oct. 15, 1774.

No sculptured marble here, nor pompous lay,
  "No storied urn nor animated bust;"
This simple stone directs pale Scotia's way
  To pour her sorrows o'er her poet's dust.

On A Schoolmaster

[The Willie Michie of this epigram was, it is said, schoolmaster of the parish of Cleish, in Fifeshire: he met Burns during his first visit to Edinburgh.]

Here lie Willie Michie's banes;
  O, Satan! when ye tak' him,
Gi' him the schoolin' o' your weans,
  For clever de'ils he'll mak' them.

A Grace before Dinner

[This was an extempore grace, pronounced by the poet at a dinner-table, in Dumfries: he was ever ready to contribute the small change of rhyme, for either the use or amusement of a company.]

O thou, who kindly dost provide
  For every creature's want!
We bless thee, God of Nature wide,
  For all thy goodness lent:
And if it please thee, Heavenly Guide,
  May never worse be sent;
But, whether granted or denied,
  Lord bless us with content!

Amen.

A Grace before Meat

[Pronounced, tradition says, at the table of Mrs. Riddel, of Woodleigh-Park.]

O thou in whom we live and move,
  Who mad'st the sea and shore,
Thy goodness constantly we prove,
  And grateful would adore.
And if it please thee, Power above,
  Still grant us with such store,
The friend we trust, the fair we love,
  And we desire no more.

On Wat

[The name of the object of this fierce epigram might be found, but in gratifying curiosity, some pain would be inflicted.]

Sic a reptile was Wat,
  Sic a miscreant slave,
That the very worms damn'd him
  When laid in his grave.
"In his flesh there's a famine,"
  A starv'd reptile cries;
"An' his heart is rank poison,"
  Another replies.

On Captain Francis Grose

[This was a festive sally: it is said that Grose, who was very fat, though he joined in the laugh, did not relish it.]

The devil got notice that Grose was a-dying,
So whip! at the summons, old Satan came flying;
But when he approach'd where poor Francis lay moaning,
And saw each bed-post with its burden a-groaning,
Astonish'd! confounded! cry'd Satan, "By ----,
I'll want him, ere I take such a damnable load!"

Impromptu, To Miss Ainslie

[These lines were occasioned by a sermon on sin, to which the poet and Miss Ainslie of Berrywell had listened, during his visit to the border.]

Fair maid, you need not take the hint,
  Nor idle texts pursue:--
'Twas guilty sinners that he meant,
  Not angels such as you!

The Kirk of Lamington

[One rough, cold day, Burns listened to a sermon, so little to his liking, in the kirk of Lamington, in Clydesdale, that he left this protest on the seat where he sat.]

As cauld a wind as ever blew,
As caulder kirk, and in't but few;
As cauld a minister's e'er spak,
Ye'se a' be het ere I come back.

The League and Covenant

[In answer to a gentleman, who called the solemn League and Covenant ridiculous and fanatical.]

The solemn League and Covenant
  Cost Scotland blood--cost Scotland tears;
But it sealed freedom's sacred cause--
  If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneers.

Written On a Pane of Glass, In the Inn at Moffat

[A friend asked the poet why God made Miss Davies so little, and a lady who was with her, so large: before the ladies, who had just passed the window, were out of sight, the following answer was recorded on a pane of glass.]

Ask why God made the gem so small,
  And why so huge the granite?
Because God meant mankind should set
  The higher value on it.

Spoken, On Being Appointed To the Excise

[Burns took no pleasure in the name of gauger: the situation was unworthy of him, and he seldom hesitated to say so.]

Searching auld wives' barrels,
  Och--hon! the day!
That clarty barm should stain my laurels;
  But--what'll ye say!
These movin' things ca'd wives and weans
Wad move the very hearts o' stanes!

Lines on Mrs. Kemble

[The poet wrote these lines in Mrs. Riddel's box in the Dumfries Theatre, in the winter of 1794: he was much moved by Mrs. Kemble's noble and pathetic acting.]

Kemble, thou cur'st my unbelief
  Of Moses and his rod;
At Yarico's sweet notes of grief
  The rock with tears had flow'd.

To Mr. Syme

[John Syme, of Ryedale, a rhymer, a wit, and a gentleman of education and intelligence, was, while Burns resided in Dumfries, his chief companion: he was bred to the law.]

No more of your guests, be they titled or not,
  And cook'ry the first in the nation;
Who is proof to thy personal converse and wit,
  Is proof to all other temptation.

To Mr. Syme with a Present of a Dozen of Porter

[The tavern where these lines were written was kept by a wandering mortal of the name of Smith; who, having visited in some capacity or other the Holy Land, put on his sign, "John Smith, from Jerusalem." He was commonly known by the name of Jerusalem John.]

O, had the malt thy strength of mind,
  Or hops the flavour of thy wit,
'Twere drink for first of human kind,
  A gift that e'en for Syme were fit.

Jerusalem Tavern, Dumfries.

A Grace

[This Grace was spoken at the table of Ryedale, where to the best cookery was added the richest wine, as well as the rarest wit: Hyslop was a distiller.]

Lord, we thank and thee adore,
  For temp'ral gifts we little merit;
At present we will ask no more,
  Let William Hyslop give the spirit.

Inscription on a Goblet

[Written on a dinner-goblet by the hand of Burns. Syme, exasperated at having his set of crystal defaced, threw the goblet under the grate: it was taken up by his clerk, and it is still preserved as a curiosity.]

There's death in the cup--sae beware!
  Nay, more--there is danger in touching;
But wha can avoid the fell snare?
  The man and his wine's sae bewitching!

The Invitation

[Burns had a happy knack in acknowledging civilities. These lines were written with a pencil on the paper in which Mrs. Hyslop, of Lochrutton, enclosed an invitation to dinner.]

The King's most humble servant I,
  Can scarcely spare a minute;
But I am yours at dinner-time,
  Or else the devil's in it.

The Creed of Poverty

[When the commissioners of Excise told Burns that he was to act, and not to think; he took out his pencil and wrote "The Creed of Poverty."]

In politics if thou would'st mix,
  And mean thy fortunes be;
Bear this in mind--be deaf and blind;
  Let great folks hear and see.

Written in a Lady's Pocket-Book

[That Burns loved liberty and sympathized with those who were warring in its cause, these lines, and hundreds more, sufficiently testify.]

Grant me, indulgent Heav'n, that I may live
To see the miscreants feel the pains they give,
Deal Freedom's sacred treasures free as air,
Till slave and despot be but things which were.

The Parson's Looks

[Some sarcastic person said, in Burns's hearing, that there was falsehood in the Reverend Dr. Burnside's looks: the poet mused for a moment, and replied in lines which have less of truth than point.]

That there is falsehood in his looks
  I must and will deny;
They say their master is a knave--
  And sure they do not lie.

The Toad-Eater

[This reproof was administered extempore to one of the guests at the table of Maxwell, of Terraughty, whose whole talk was of Dukes with whom he had dined, and of earls with whom he had supped.]

What of earls with whom you have supt,
  And of dukes that you dined with yestreen?
Lord! a louse, Sir, is still but a louse,
  Though it crawl on the curl of a queen.

On Robert Riddel

[I copied these lines from a pane of glass in the Friars-Carse Hermitage, on which they had been traced with the diamond of Burns.]

To Riddel, much-lamented man,
  This ivied cot was dear;
Reader, dost value matchless worth?
  This ivied cot revere.

The Toast

[Burns being called on for a song, by his brother volunteers, on a festive occasion, gave the following Toast.]

Instead of a song, boys, I'll give you a toast--
Here's the memory of those on the twelfth that we lost!--
That we lost, did I say? nay, by Heav'n, that we found;
For their fame it shall last while the world goes round.
The next in succession, I'll give you--the King!
Whoe'er would betray him, on high may he swing;
And here's the grand fabric, our free Constitution,
As built on the base of the great Revolution;
And longer with politics not to be cramm'd,
Be Anarchy curs'd, and be Tyranny damn'd;
And who would to Liberty e'er prove disloyal,
May his son be a hangman, and he his first trial.

On A Person Nicknamed the Marquis

[In a moment when vanity prevailed against prudence, this person, who kept a respectable public-house in Dumfries, desired Burns, to write his epitaph.]

Here lies a mock Marquis, whose titles were shamm'd;
If ever he rise, it will be to be damn'd.

Lines Written on a Window

[Burns traced these words with a diamond, on the window of the King's Arms Tavern, Dumfries, as a reply, or reproof, to one who had been witty on excisemen.]

Ye men of wit and wealth, why all this sneering
'Gainst poor Excisemen? give the cause a hearing;
What are you, landlords' rent-rolls? teasing ledgers:
What premiers--what? even monarchs' mighty gaugers:
Nay, what are priests, those seeming godly wise men?
What are they, pray, but spiritual Excisemen?

Lines Written on a Window of the Globe Tavern, Dumfries

[The Globe Tavern was Burne's favourite "Howff," as he called it. It had other attractions than good liquor; there lived "Anna, with the golden locks."]

The greybeard, old Wisdom, may boast of his treasures,
  Give me with gay Folly to live;
I grant him his calm-blooded, time-settled pleasures,
  But Folly has raptures to give.

The Selkirk Grace

[On a visit to St. Mary's Isle, Burns was requested by the noble owner to say grace to dinner; he obeyed in these lines, now known in Galloway by the name of "The Selkirk Grace."]

Some hae meat and canna eat,
  And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
  And sae the Lord be thanket.

To Dr. Maxwell, On Jessie Staig's Recovery

[Maxwell was a skilful physician; and Jessie Staig, the Provost's oldest daughter, was a young lady of great beauty: she died early.]

Maxwell, if merit here you crave
  That merit I deny,
You save fair Jessie from the grave--
  An angel could not die.

Epitaph

[These lines were traced by the hand of Burns on a goblet belonging to Gabriel Richardson, brewer, in Dumfries: it is carefully preserved in the family.]

Here brewer Gabriel's fire's extinct,
  And empty all his barrels:
He's blest--if, as he brew'd, he drink--
  In upright virtuous morals.

Epitaph on William Nicol

[Nicol was a scholar, of ready and rough wit, who loved a joke and a gill.]

Ye maggots, feast on Nicol's brain,
  For few sic feasts ye've gotten;
And fix your claws in Nicol's heart,
  For deil a bit o't's rotten.

On The Death of a Lap-Dog, Named Echo

[When visiting with Syme at Kenmore Castle, Burns wrote this Epitaph, rather reluctantly, it is said, at the request of the lady of the house, in honour of her lap dog.]

In wood and wild, ye warbling throng,
  Your heavy loss deplore;
Now half extinct your powers of song,
  Sweet Echo is no more.

Ye jarring, screeching things around,
  Scream your discordant joys;
Now half your din of tuneless sound
  With Echo silent lies.

On a Noted Coxcomb

[Neither Ayr, Edinburgh, nor Dumfries have contested the honour of producing the person on whom these lines were written:--coxcombs are the growth of all districts.]

Light lay the earth on Willy's breast,
  His chicken-heart so tender;
But build a castle on his head,
  His skull will prop it under.

On Seeing the Beautiful Seat of Lord Galloway

[This, and the three succeeding Epigrams, are hasty squibs thrown amid the tumult of a contested election, and must not be taken as the fixed and deliberate sentiments of the poet, regarding an ancient and noble house.]

What dost thou in that mansion fair?--
  Flit, Galloway, and find
Some narrow, dirty, dungeon cave,
  The picture of thy mind!

On The Same

No Stewart art thou, Galloway,
  The Stewarts all were brave;
Besides, the Stewarts were but fools,
  Not one of them a knave.

On The Same

Bright ran thy line, O Galloway,
  Thro' many a far-fam'd sire!
So ran the far-fam'd Roman way,
  So ended in a mire.

To The Same, On the Author Being Threatened With His Resentment

Spare me thy vengeance, Galloway,
  In quiet let me live:
I ask no kindness at thy hand,
  For thou hast none to give.

On a Country Laird

[Mr. Maxwell, of Cardoness, afterwards Sir David, exposed himself to the rhyming wrath of Burns, by his activity in the contested elections of Heron.]

Bless Jesus Christ, O Cardoness,
  With grateful lifted eyes,
Who said that not the soul alone
  But body too, must rise:
For had he said, "the soul alone
  From death I will deliver;"
Alas! alas! O Cardoness,
  Then thou hadst slept for ever.

On John Bushby

[Burns, in his harshest lampoons, always admitted the talents of Bushby: the peasantry, who hate all clever attorneys, loved to handle his character with unsparing severity.]

Here lies John Bushby, honest man!
Cheat him, Devil, gin ye can.

The True Loyal Natives

[At a dinner-party, where politics ran high, lines signed by men who called themselves the true loyal natives of Dumfries, were handed to Burns: he took a pencil, and at once wrote this reply.]

Ye true "Loyal Natives," attend to my song,
In uproar and riot rejoice the night long;
From envy or hatred your corps is exempt,
But where is your shield from the darts of contempt?

On a Suicide

[Burns was observed by my friend, Dr. Copland Hutchinson, to fix, one morning, a bit of paper on the grave of a person who had committed suicide: on the paper these lines were pencilled.]

Earth'd up here lies an imp o' hell,
  Planted by Satan's dibble--
Poor silly wretch, he's damn'd himsel'
  To save the Lord the trouble.

Extempore Pinned on a Lady's Couch

["Printed," says Sir Harris Nicolas, "from a copy in Burns's handwriting," a slight alteration in the last line is made from an oral version.]

If you rattle along like your mistress's tongue,
  Your speed will outrival the dart:
But, a fly for your load, you'll break down on the road
  If your stuff has the rot, like her heart.

Lines to John Rankine

[These lines were said to have been written by the poet to Rankine, of Adamhill, with orders to forward them when he died.]

He who of Rankine sang lies stiff and dead,
And a green grassy hillock hides his head;
Alas! alas! a devilish change indeed.

Jessy Lewars

[Written on the blank side of a list of wild beasts, exhibiting in Dumfries. "Now," said the poet, who was then very ill, "it is fit to be presented to a lady."]

Talk not to me of savages
  From Afric's burning sun,
No savage e'er could rend my heart
  As, Jessy, thou hast done.
But Jessy's lovely hand in mine,
  A mutual faith to plight,
Not even to view the heavenly choir
  Would be so blest a sight.

The Toast

[One day, when Burns was ill and seemed in slumber, he observed Jessy Lewars moving about the house with a light step lest she should disturb him. He took a crystal goblet containing wine-and-water for moistening his lips, wrote these words upon it with a diamond, and presented it to her.]

Fill me with the rosy-wine,
Call a toast--a toast divine;
Give the Poet's darling flame,
Lovely Jessy be the name;
Then thou mayest freely boast,
Thou hast given a peerless toast.

On Miss Jessy Lewars

[The constancy of her attendance on the poet's sick-bed and anxiety of mind brought a slight illness upon Jessy Lewars. "You must not die yet," said the poet: "give me that goblet, and I shall prepare you for the worst." He traced these lines with his diamond, and said, "That will be a companion to 'The Toast.'"]

Say, sages, what's the charm on earth
  Can turn Death's dart aside?
It is not purity and worth,
  Else Jessy had not died.

R. B.

On The Recovery of Jessy Lewars

[A little repose brought health to the young lady. "I knew you would not die," observed the poet, with a smile: "there is a poetic reason for your recovery;" he wrote, and with a feeble hand, the following lines.]

But rarely seen since Nature's birth,
  The natives of the sky;
Yet still one seraph's left on earth,
  For Jessy did not die.

R. B.

Tam, the Chapman

[Tam, the chapman, is said by the late William Cobbett, who knew him, to have been a Thomas Kennedy, a native of Ayrshire, agent to a mercantile house in the west of Scotland. Sir Harris Nicolas confounds him with the Kennedy to whom Burns addressed several letters and verses, which I printed in my edition of the poet in 1834: it is perhaps enough to say that the name of the one was Thomas and the name of the other John.]

As Tam the Chapman on a day,
Wi' Death forgather'd by the way,
Weel pleas'd he greets a wight so famous,
And Death was nae less pleas'd wi' Thomas,
Wha cheerfully lays down the pack,
And there blaws up a hearty crack;
His social, friendly, honest heart,
Sae tickled Death they could na part:
Sac after viewing knives and garters,
Death takes him hame to gie him quarters.

"Here's a bottle and an honest friend"

[These lines seem to owe their origin to the precept of Mickle.

"The present moment is our ain,
The next we never saw."]

Here's a bottle and an honest friend!
  What wad you wish for mair, man?
Wha kens before his life may end,
  What his share may be o' care, man?
Then catch the moments as they fly,
  And use them as ye ought, man?
Believe me, happiness is shy,
  And comes not ay when sought, man.

"Tho' fickle fortune has deceived me"

[The sentiment which these lines express, was one familiar to Burns, in the early, as well as concluding days of his life.]

 

Though fickle Fortune has deceived me,
  She promis'd fair and perform'd but ill;
Of mistress, friends, and wealth bereav'd me,
  Yet I bear a heart shall support me still.--

I'll act with prudence as far's I'm able,
  But if success I must never find,
Then come misfortune, I bid thee welcome,
  I'll meet thee with an undaunted mind.

To John Kennedy

[The John Kennedy to whom these verses and the succeeding lines were addressed, lived, in 1796, at Dumfries-house, and his taste was so much esteemed by the poet, that he submitted his "Cotter's Saturday Night" and the "Mountain Daisy" to his judgment: he seems to have been of a social disposition.]

Now, Kennedy, if foot or horse
E'er bring you in by Mauchline Cross,
L--d, man, there's lasses there wad force
            A hermit's fancy.
And down the gate in faith they're worse
            And mair unchancy.

But as I'm sayin', please step to Dow's,
And taste sic gear as Johnnie brews,
Till some bit callan bring me news
            That ye are there,
And if we dinna hae a bouze
            I'se ne'er drink mair.

It's no I like to sit an' swallow,
Then like a swine to puke and wallow,
But gie me just a true good fellow,
            Wi' right ingine,
And spunkie ance to make us mellow,
            And then we'll shine.
Now if ye're ane o' warl's folk,
Wha rate the wearer by the cloak,
An' sklent on poverty their joke
            Wi' bitter sneer,
Wi' you nae friendship I will troke,
            Nor cheap nor dear.

But if, as I'm informed weel,
Ye hate as ill's the very deil
The flinty heart that canna feel--
            Come, Sir, here's tae you!
Hae, there's my haun, I wiss you weel,
            And gude be wi' you.

ROBERT BURNESS.

Mossgiel, 3 March, 1786.

To John Kennedy

Farewell, dear friend! may guid luck hit you,
And 'mang her favourites admit you!
If e'er Detraction shore to smit you,
            May nane believe him!
And ony deil that thinks to get you,
            Good Lord deceive him!

R. B.

Kilmarnock, August, 1786

"There's naethin' like the honest nappy"

[Cromek found these characteristic lines among the poet's papers.]

There's naethin like the honest nappy!
Whaur'll ye e'er see men sae happy,
Or women, sonsie, saft an' sappy,
            'Tween morn an' morn
As them wha like to taste the drappie
            In glass or horn?

I've seen me daezt upon a time;
I scarce could wink or see a styme;
Just ae hauf muchkin does me prime,
            Ought less is little,
Then back I rattle on the rhyme,
            As gleg's a whittle.

On The Blank Leaf of a Work by Hannah More

Presented By Mrs C----

Thou flattering work of friendship kind,
Still may thy pages call to mind
The dear, the beauteous donor;
Though sweetly female every part,
Yet such a head, and more the heart,
Does both the sexes honour.
She showed her taste refined and just,
When she selected thee,
Yet deviating, own I must,
For so approving me!
  But kind still, I'll mind still
The giver in the gift;
  I'll bless her, and wiss her
A Friend above the Lift.

Mossgiel, April, 1786.

To The Men and Brethren of the Masonic Lodge at Tarbolton

Within your dear mansion may wayward contention
  Or withering envy ne'er enter:
May secrecy round be the mystical bound,
  And brotherly love be the centre.

Edinburgh, 23 August, 1787.

Impromptu

[The tumbler on which these verses are inscribed by the diamond of Burns, found its way to the hands of Sir Walter Scott, and is now among the treasures of Abbotsford.]

You're welcome, Willie Stewart,
You're welcome, Willie Stewart;
There's ne'er a flower that blooms in May,
That's half sae welcome's thou art.

Come bumpers high, express your joy,
  The bowl we maun renew it;
The tappit-hen, gae bring her ben,
  To welcome Willie Stewart.

My foes be strang, and friends be slack,
  Ilk action may he rue it,
May woman on him turn her back,
  That wrongs thee, Willie Stewart.

Prayer for Adam Armour

[The origin of this prayer is curious. In 1785, the maid-servant of an innkeeper at Mauchline, having been caught in what old ballad-makers delicately call "the deed of shame," Adam Armour, the brother of the poet's bonnie Jean, with one or two more of his comrades, executed a rustic act of justice upon her, by parading her perforce through the village, placed on a rough, unpruned piece of wood: an unpleasant ceremony, vulgarly called "Riding the Stang." This was resented by Geordie and Nanse, the girl's master and mistress; law was restored to, and as Adam had to hide till the matter was settled, he durst not venture home till late on the Saturday nights. In one of these home-comings he met Burns who laughed when he heard the story, and said, "You have need of some one to pray for you." "No one can do that better than yourself," was the reply, and this humorous intercession was made on the instant, and, as it is said, "clean off loof." From Adam Armour I obtained the verses, and when he wrote them out, he told the story in which the prayer originated.]

Lord, pity me, for I am little,
An elf of mischief and of mettle,
That can like ony wabster's shuttle,
            Jink there or here,
Though scarce as lang's a gude kale-whittle,
            I'm unco queer.

Lord pity now our waefu' case,
For Geordie's Jurr we're in disgrace,
Because we stang'd her through the place,
            'Mang hundreds laughin',
For which we daurna show our face
            Within the clachan.

And now we're dern'd in glens and hallows,
And hunted as was William Wallace,
By constables, those blackguard fellows,
            And bailies baith,
O Lord, preserve us frae the gallows!
            That cursed death.

Auld, grim, black-bearded Geordie's sel',
O shake him ewre the mouth o' hell,
And let him hing and roar and yell,
            Wi' hideous din,
And if he offers to rebel
            Just heave him in.

When Death comes in wi' glimmering blink,
And tips auld drunken Nanse the wink'
Gaur Satan gie her a--e a clink
            Behint his yett,
And fill her up wi' brimstone drink,
            Red reeking het!

There's Jockie and the hav'rel Jenny,
Some devil seize them in a hurry,
And waft them in th' infernal wherry,
            Straught through the lake,
And gie their hides a noble curry,
            Wi' oil of aik.

As for the lass, lascivious body,
She's had mischief enough already,
Weel stang'd by market, mill, and smiddie,
            She's suffer'd sair;
But may she wintle in a widdie,
            If she wh--re mair.

Index to Songs and Ballads


   

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